The sleeping giant that is content marketing woke up last year. Now it’s hungry.
That theme emerged from Content Marketing Institute/Marketing Profs’ B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends: Insights for 2023 research report sponsored by ON24 and released today.
Consider this: 71% of the B2B marketers surveyed say content marketing has become more important to their organization in the last year.
- Executive-level awareness and support
- A content marketing strategy
- More budget and additional staff
- More access to subject matter experts
- Better technology
- Better measurement
- Greater alignment between marketing and sales
That’s a sizeable wish list. No wonder the overall success needle is stuck – only about 29% say they consider their organizations extremely or very successful with content marketing.
One thing is clear: It’s time for B2B organizations to support content marketing with the investment – and staff – it deserves.
Mark Bornstein, VP of content marketing at ON24, concurs. “Content marketing has never been more important to driving overall marketing success, but content teams need more … more budget, more headcount, and more support. This research report will make you feel less alone (we are all in the same boat), and it will also help you prioritize the areas you need to focus on to grow your team and increase your impact and value.”
Before we break down the challenges detailed above, let’s share the most frequently cited content marketing challenges. With this question, marketers could pick as many challenges as they had. Many of the results mirror their answers to the one biggest challenge. But others focus on the content itself, such as content that appeals to different stages of the buyer’s journey (61%) and achieving consistency with messaging (33%). Only 2% say they don’t have any content marketing challenges.
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Now, let’s explore the seven critical challenge areas.
Executive-level awareness and support
Does content marketing suffer from a failure to communicate?
Consider these detailed responses to the one-change question:
- “I would increase the perceived value of content marketing — it’s a functional expertise/skill set, not just something everyone pitches in to do. The right content is critical for the buyer’s journey and campaigns.”
- “Recognize the value it brings and support it with adequate funding and resourcing.”
- “More focus and support from leadership on our strategic goals so we can refine our content marketing focus to make sure we go in the right direction with the right resources.”
- “Define content marketing as a value-producing function to support all other marketing efforts.”
I need to share a bit of tough love on this one: If you struggle to get executives to understand the value of content marketing, you (or your team leader) need to step up and educate them.
Amanda Todorovich, executive director of content marketing at the Cleveland Clinic, grew her publishing program from three full-time staff to 80 over a decade. One of her prescriptions for keeping (and expanding) executive support is to communicate with leaders often and in terms they understand. You might need to talk less about content and more about business impact.
And you’ll definitely want to do more than formal results reports. Amanda sends brief weekly emails weekly to her boss to describe describing a team win, a new experiment, or a new content relationship formed. You can read more about how communication helped grow Cleveland Clinic’s content operation in An Inside Look at One of the Most Ambitious and Successful Content Strategies.
Yes, that takes more work. But the alternative is an underfunded, underappreciated content program or worse, a canceled one.
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A content marketing strategy
Content marketing stands a much better chance of success when it’s backed by a sound (written) strategy and the resources to execute that strategy.
We’ve been hammering this point for years. Yet the percentage of content marketers with a written strategy remains at 40%.
Without a strategy, you have a harder time proving your program’s value to executives. You risk being pulled in too many directions. You struggle to keep internal and external teams working toward a shared goal.
Does that convince you to finally write it down?
I know it seems daunting. But don’t overcomplicate it. CMI’s Ann Gynn shared a very doable approach in her recent article How To Write a 1-Page Content Marketing Strategy: 6 Easy-to-Follow Steps.
And once you’ve written it down, make sure to share it far and wide.
More budget and additional staff
Many content marketers operate alone or with a small staff that’s struggling to do too much. In fact, 46% of those surveyed say one person (or group) is responsible for every type of content their organization produces.
Relief may be on the way. Nearly half say they expect their organization will hire or contract content producers in 2023, with 25% planning to bring on content marketers and 22% adding community managers and social media specialists.
In addition, half of the respondents say they expect their content marketing budget will increase in 2023. That’s a 24% drop from last year’s survey, when two-thirds of marketers said they expected budget increases. Given the current economic uncertainty, that caution in estimating budgets isn’t surprising.
Only 14% say they expect a budget jump of more than 9%, and 36% say it should increase by 1% to 9%. Thirty-eight percent say they expect the same budget in 2023, with 3% expecting a decrease between 1% and 9% and only 1% expecting a cut of more than 9%.
Where will their budgets go?
As you’ll see in the full report:
- In-person events are making a big comeback.
- Digital events continue to see investment.
- Videos continue to soar.
- Online communities tick up.
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More access to subject matter experts (SMEs)
Getting internal experts to collaborate on content initiatives is key to creating excellent content – especially when they hold knowledge difficult to find elsewhere.
Yet, one-third of surveyed marketers indicate accessing SMEs for content creation is a problem. Among the detailed responses shared about the SME challenge:
- “Accessibility to subject matter experts is extremely important. Since most of these are internal contacts that are busy with their own work, it can be a long process to get enough from them to write content, even if the value is proven.”
- “Help our experts understand what the audience really wants to hear from them. Not just a sales pitch, but a true connection with their business.”
- “Get the subject matter experts to give the story — value (propositions) and whys at a deep level and be specific about how what we do adds value.”
Yes, content creation usually isn’t in the expert’s job description. However, if you can help them see how working with you can help them reach their goals, you’ll likely earn their cooperation. Ann Gynn offers excellent advice on this front, too, in How To Woo and Win Subject Matter Experts (Almost) Every Time.
Only 28% of marketers say their organization has the right technology to manage content across the organization. Most (61%) say their organization either hasn’t acquired the right technology or isn’t using existing technology to its potential. The remaining 11% aren’t sure if they have the right technology.
Robert Rose, CMI’s chief strategy advisor, says those who aren’t using or don’t have the right technology likely are in that position because their companies develop tech stacks without a strategy:
“They’re letting features and function drive the strategy rather than the other way around,” he says. Too many underestimate the level of complexity involved with implementing, managing, and maintaining systems. In his recent article, Robert offers more advice on this topic: Your 2023 Planning Shouldn’t Be All About That Tech [Rose-Colored Glasses].
Among the marketers surveyed, 42% say they are challenged to develop consistency with measurement. Some of them explained their challenge and what they want to happen:
- “I would love to be able to more clearly measure and communicate success and use that information to inform future decision-making.”
- “(I want) a better way to track the performance of content marketing, both as a whole and the individual content pieces. Right now, it’s disconnected and disorganized, and hard to trace leads back to what may have converted them.”
Though it might seem like technology would provide the answer, Robert says that’s not necessarily so. Instead, start with agreed upon objectives and a shared understanding of how to measure them. He explains how to do that in the article (and video) Measuring Content Marketing Impact: How To Set Objectives That Matter.
Greater alignment between content and sales
Almost half (49%) say they’re challenged to align content efforts across sales and marketing. And not surprisingly, 59% say creating content that appeals to different stages of the buyer’s journey is a challenge. After all, content connected to the buyer’s journey often requires a good relationship between sales and marketing.
Know what helps that sales and marketing alignment? A written content marketing strategy that’s agreed to and understood by sales and marketing, along with regular distribution of strategy reminders.
But something else helps, too – a planning process that focuses all the teams on the big story your brand wants to tell. Robert describes how to do this in How To Plan a Content ‘Season’ Like a Hollywood Showrunner [Rose-Colored Glasses].
From arts and crafts to the executive suite
Not long ago, content marketing teams often heard themselves described disparagingly as the “arts and crafts department.” Now organizations realize content is a critical function.
And content marketers themselves seem to appreciate the spotlight. In fact, 85% tell us they think content marketing provides a rewarding and purposeful career path.
But that path forward usually isn’t seen at the company where they work. CMI’s recent Content Marketing Career & Salary 2023 Outlook found only 43% of content marketers say they won’t look for a new job in the next year.
Want to hold on to your team? Establish a clear path for advancement and improve your content marketing program to address their challenges.
To learn more about the state of content marketing and where it’s headed in 2023, read the full report. It’s loaded with insights into the types of content used by marketers, social media platform effectiveness, paid methods of content promotion, and expected areas of investment (spoiler: Video tops the list again this year).
I hope you find these results helpful as you develop (and write down) your 2023 content marketing strategy. What’s on your content marketing wish list for 2023? Let me know in the comments.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute